How to Stay Compliant When Shipping Hazardous Chemicals

  • January 17, 2022
  • News

Transporting hazardous chemicals is a serious responsibility. If a simple desire to protect your community isn’t enough to motivate you, consider that your company can be penalized with a hefty fine for a single violation.

Whether your brand would ever be able to recover from a significant spill or accident is another matter altogether. 

If you plan to ship hazardous materials (HAZMATs) it’s your job to ensure you’re following the law when you undertake to move dangerous chemicals anywhere for any reason. 

Here’s how you can do it the right way every time…

What Is a Hazardous Chemical?

According to the Department of Transportation (DoT), a hazardous material is any material that poses an “unreasonable threat to the public and the environment.” 

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) defines it more broadly as “any element, compound, or mixture of elements that is a physical hazard or a health hazard.” For chemicals, this could mean:

  • carcinogens
  • irritants
  • reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, hepatotoxins
  • chemicals that damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes 

When it comes to chemicals, a chemical in its pure form may qualify as a hazardous material, but non-hazardous if it’s present in a solution in a low enough proportion or absolute quantity. 

This is known as its Reportable Quantity (RQ), and it differs for different chemicals. These amounts are specified in Appendix A to §172.101 – List of Hazardous Substances and Reportable Quantities.

Different Types of Hazardous Chemicals

There are nine classes of hazardous materials outlined by the DoT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, any of which may cover chemicals. 

The chemical manufacturer or distributor is required to determine whether a chemical falls into one of these categories and if so, to create a safety data sheet and safety label for it:

Class 1: Explosives – This includes trinitrotoluene (TNT) and ammonium nitrate.

Class 2: Gases – This includes flammable, non-flammable/non-poisonous, and poisonous gases.

Class 3: Flammable Liquid and Combustible Liquid – This includes gasoline and fuel oil. 

Class 4: Flammable Solid, Spontaneously Combustible, and Dangerous When Wet – This includes nitrocellulose and magnesium.

Class 5: Oxidizer and Organic Peroxide – This includes pool chemicals (Trichloroisocyanuric acid) and potassium bromate.

Class 6: Poison (Toxic) and Poison Inhalation Hazard – This includes cyanide, some pesticides, and lead-based compounds.

Class 7: Radioactive 

Class 8: Corrosive – This includes hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid. 

Class 9: Miscellaneous – This includes many hazardous wastes that don’t fit any other categories such as benzaldehyde and acetaldehyde ammonia.

How Are Hazardous Chemicals Transported?

Chemicals are transported by the same means as other goods, and this doesn’t change for hazardous chemicals; only the level of precaution changes. 

That means truck, rail, air, and sea are all available to shippers who’ve taken the appropriate measures to secure their HAZMATs.

How to Transport Hazardous Chemicals and Stay Compliant

Who is Responsible for Regulating?

When shipping internationally, the country of destination for your hazardous chemicals determines the regulations. Chances are good that they will adhere or stick relatively closely to the United Nations’ framework created by the Transport of Dangerous Goods sub-committee of the UN’s Economic and Social Council. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have authority over air and sea shipments from the U.S., respectively. 

For domestic shipping, the DoT is responsible for regulating the movement of hazardous chemicals.

 The agency’s 49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations), also known as Title 49, is the key document outlining across nine volumes the prescribed methods for preparing, shipping, and handling dangerous goods to, from, and inside the U.S. 

Within the DoT there are no less than four agencies responsible for enforcing various sections of Title 49: the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Security Administration (PHMSA); the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

The Shipper’s Responsibilities

As the shipper, your most important job is to properly classify the HAZMATs being shipped. This will then allow you to address the ancillary tasks you’re responsible for, including:

    • assigning the proper shipping name (e.g. petroleum distillate; adsorbed gas, n.o.s; self-heating solid, organic, n.o.s; etc.)
    • the HAZMAT’s class or division (e.g. 3, 5.2, 6.1, etc.)
    • the identification number (e.g. UN1389, NA1993, etc.)–Materials with “UN” in their ID number are considered appropriately named for both international and domestic transportation, while those with “NA” are only recognized within the U.S.
    • a hazard warning label (e.g. 2.1, 5.2, etc.)–These are outlined in the “Label Substitution Table” of 49 CFR 172.101.
  • packaging 
  • marking–There may be additional marking requirements beyond the proper shipping name and ID number. 
  • employee training

The § 172.101 Hazardous Materials Table gives you much of this information. According to the Code itself, many violations occur due to failure to follow the instructions associated with this section, so make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with them thoroughly. 

It’s important to note that your carrier may assume some of your responsibilities, which is fine as long as you know they are being done according to 49 CFR standards.

 This makes the carrier vetting process even more important (more on this below). 

Shipping Hazardous Chemcals: 2 Examples

Example #1: Anhydrous ammonia, 2,000 gallons, domestic destination

Using the 172.101 Hazardous Materials Table, you’ll find two entries for popular farming product “ammonia, anhydrous”: one with an “I” symbol (international) and one with a “D” (domestic).

Since you’re shipping domestic, that’s the one you need. You’ll see that anhydrous ammonia is a 2.2 hazard class material: non-flammable, non-toxic gas. It’s ID number is UN1005. It’s label code is also 2.2 and the label should look something like this:

Anhydrous ammonia has three special provisions that can be referenced here: 13 (the phrase “inhalation hazard” must be included on the shipping papers and the packaging); 379 (exemptions for adsorbed/absorbed anhydrous ammonia that meets certain criteria); and T50 (portable tank instructions for liquefied compressed gas and chemicals under pressure). 

You’ll also find that shipping anhydrous ammonia by air is “Forbidden” for both passenger aircraft and cargo aircraft; so you’re limited to highway, rail, or cargo vessel. 

As for packaging, your instructions for non-bulk are described in § 173.304, and § 173.314, 315 for bulk. 

For the former, you’ll find the cylinder must not be completely filled at any temperature and must have a rigid outer packaging, for example. 

For the latter you’ll learn, among other info, that from November to March there are special temperature parameters for filling the tanks to allow for pressure changes in cold weather.

Example #2: Compressed helium, 103 L cylinders, domestic 

UN1046 is the ID number for “helium, compressed,” which you’re shipping for use with gas detectors. Although it’s also a 2.2 hazard class material, helium is not as tightly regulated as anhydrous ammonia and as you’ll find in the Hazardous Materials Table, it can be shipped by passenger aircraft (up to 75kg), and by cargo aircraft (up to 150kg). It also has no special provisions listed. 

Helium’s non-bulk packaging instructions lie in § 173.302, with extra instructions for bulk packaging in § 173.314

In order to qualify for air travel, cylinders must be equipped with a pressure relief device. In a tank car setting with a bulk helium shipment, you’ll discover that helium has the only exception to the tank pressure limit in a non-insulated tank car, allowed to be charged to 10% in excess of the marked maximum gas pressure.

If you’re shipping by cargo vessel, compressed helium’s “A” in Column 10 means it can be stowed either on deck or under deck en route, while the “85” stipulates that if stowed under deck there must be mechanical ventilation present. 

Hazardous Chemicals Communications

For the safety of everyone involved in shipping HAZMATs, you must clearly communicate your chemical’s potential dangers via four key means: shipping papers, marking, labeling, and placarding. 

49 CFR Part 172 Subpart C contains the copious fine print, but in short, shipping papers need to describe the chemical, and the shipment itself. 

Different transportation methods (air, rail, highway) vary slightly in their requirements, but you will need at least:

  • the proper shipping name
  • the hazard class
  • the identification number
  • the packaging group
  • the number and type of packages and weight (net or gross)
  • an emergency phone number (that must be continuously monitored while the shipment is en route)

Markings for packages with the proper shipping name and ID number of the HAZMATs inside must be durable, in English, and unobscured. 

For bulk packages, ID numbers must be on all four sides if the containers are over 1,000 gallons or if they’re permanently mounted tube-trailer cylinders. There are also a handful of additional marking requirements that may apply, such as “poisonous hazardous materials” and “Class 7 (radioactive) materials.”

Anyone who offers a HAZMAT for transportation must ensure it’s labeled with the hazard class and corresponding label name. These labels are reserved for HAZMATs and therefore shipping anything non-hazardous that could be mistaken for having a HAZMAT label–whether the color, design, or shape–is actually illegal. 

Finally, the placarding responsibility requires carriers to affix specially designed symbols to each side and end of the vehicle transporting the HAZMAT. The combination of hazard class number, UN/NA number, compatibility letters, color, words, and graphics helps emergency responders know what substances are inside in case of an accident. Placarding requirements are described in 49 CFR Subpart F Part 172

Employee Training

Anyone who is involved with hazardous materials–whether designing, manufacturing, inspecting, marking, repairing, or testing a package or component–must be trained to do so safely.  

This training must be completed within three months of starting the job and renewed once every three years, with employer records kept up to date.  

To be HAZMAT-certified requires five different types of training: 

    1. General awareness, e.g. identifying, classifying, packaging HAZMATs
    2. Function-specific
    3. Safety, e.g. emergency response and accident avoidance
    4. Security awareness, e.g. transportation security considerations 
    5. In-depth security, e.g. security breach protocols


The term used to describe HAZMAT packaging is Performance Oriented Packaging (POP). This set of standards was developed by the United Nations but adopted by the DoT. 

You must first determine the Packing Group classification for your chemical: I (Great Danger), II (Medium Danger), III (Minor Danger), or multiple groups (this will involve testing; see 49 CFR, Part 173, Subpart D). Proper packaging–whether bulk or non-bulk–is a function of the Packing Group, the hazardous material’s vapor pressure, and the chemical compatibility between the package and the material. 

If you’ve used a third-party manufacturer, you are allowed to follow your manufacturer’s direction for safely packaging your chemical, but aspects such as filling limits, securing, and cushioning are your responsibility as the shipper. 

You should use packaging specifically designed and tested for your application by the manufacturer, and only in the manner intended.  

Finding and Vetting Hazmat Carriers

Because of the serious nature of transporting hazardous chemicals, finding a reputable carrier is extremely important. 

The easiest way to do this is to engage a freight broker, who serves as a middleman for you and HAZMAT carriers he has already vetted and trusts. 

Of course, there will be a fee involved for brokering services, so if you prefer to DIY, you’ll need to do the vetting yourself.

The carrier should have the appropriate property licenses, safety protocols, and required insurances. 

For example, they need to have $5 million of coverage when shipping more than 3,500 water gallons of liquified petroleum gas. For gasoline, the minimum coverage is $1 million. 

Road carriers must have a Hazardous Material Safety Permit (HMSP) from the FMCSA. To verify that your chosen carrier has one, visit the agency’s verification page and input the carrier’s DoT number, which they should provide you with. 

You can also check a motor carrier’s safety and performance data with the FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) lookup tool

Be Diligent in Keeping Shipping Records

Shipping records for HAZMATs must be kept for two years after the initial carrier takes possession. The time period for retaining hazardous waste documentation is three years. It is acceptable to scan the shipping papers and save them digitally as a PDF or JPG, but only after the shipment arrives; save the physical copy of the shipping papers until that time.

Another Option: Outsourcing Manufacturing and Shipping

A contract manufacturer like Seatex can be an enormous help when dealing with hazardous chemicals, and not just with the production–it provides a turnkey solution for a given chemical product, handling everything from blending to packaging and shipping. 

It’s akin to using a shipping broker, only there’s no middle man for each stage of the product’s journey; you enjoy having just one point of contact between you and a finished item. 

A contract manufacturer offers a shortcut to the expertise and employee training needed to ship HAZMATs safely and within the confines of the law. A contract manufacturer can also provide the appropriate HAZMAT packaging, as well as leverage connections with trusted carriers it has worked with in the past who are experienced HAZMAT pros.